A subscriber alerts us to what he calls an extraordinary performance by Gerry Harvey on Wednesday’s Lateline Business, during which he seemed to disclose that a takeover offer had been made for Harvey Norman, but the executive chairman had kept it secret.

In the context of a discussion about the Coles Myer takeover rumours, Ali Moore asked Harvey if he was expecting an offer for his company:

GERRY HARVEY: No.

ALI MOORE: Ever had an offer?

GERRY HARVEY: Yes.

ALI MOORE: Recently?

GERRY HARVEY: No, and if had, I’d say no.

ALI MOORE: Would it be your right to say no?

GERRY HARVEY: That’s a good question.

ALI MOORE: And the answer is?

GERRY HARVEY: We’d better not go there, OK.

ALI MOORE: But how recently was the offer?

GERRY HARVEY: That good, isn’t it, because there was no offer.

ALI MOORE: But you were made an offer, but it was some time ago?

GERRY HARVEY: No, I didn’t say no, I intimated that we might have been made an offer somewhere in the past. Whether it was one year ago or 20 years ago, I won’t say.

So, there had been an offer sometime in the past for Harvey Norman that the boss kept secret from his shareholders and still wants to. It’s bemusing that he appears to be unsure of whether that was the right thing to do, but Gerry Harvey also does a nice turn portraying himself as rough’n’ready and not particularly concerned with the finer points.

Our subscriber wonders if the chairman of a publicly listed company can spout such malarkey and hopes someone at the AGM will inquire further.

Well, actually he can – and Gerry has plenty of company in doing so. In fact, it happens quite regularly. For example, the Xstrata/BHP auction wasn’t the first approach WMC received by any means and there was the NAB talks with AMP that chairman Ian Burgess kept away from shareholders.

If anything, Gerry Harvey has more right to keep takeover offers secret than most. Given the ownership control he and his wives past and present enjoy, nothing could happen to the company without their approval anyway.

But one might also consider that a little speculation wouldn’t go astray for the Harvey Norman share price at present as it wallows in the low $3s.

Peter Fray

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